What Is It About Sexual Assault?

*Disclaimer: This post may difficult to read, especially for survivors of sexual assault. If you are not a survivor, despite it being hard to read, I encourage you to do so. I am choosing to share this information- and level of detail- because I feel it is critical to understanding what sexual assault is and what it does to people. 

LET’S TALK ABOUT HARVEY WEINSTEIN. Let’s talk about Donald Trump. Let’s talk about Nelly and Casey Affleck and R. Kelly and the plethora of dirty, perverted, cruel men that are supposed to use their fame for good but instead use it as a power tool to manipulate and abuse women. As a society, we hear about sexual assault and rape in the news on a weekly, if not daily basis, as is obvious from the robust, yet very incomplete list of famous men above. Today alone, I randomly came across an article on BBC about the Islamic State raping, murdering, and holding women captive, as well as an article about a woman subpoenaing Donald Trump for his sexual offenses. But despite it being in our faces all the time, so many people don’t understand the impact it has on society or the sheer number of women who have been assaulted. The one good thing to come of sexual assault being in the news so often is the number of women speaking out, standing up, and fighting back.

Amber Tamblyn is an incredibly brave and fierce advocate for women (obviously I’m a fan), who has openly talked about her ex-boyfriend sexual assaulting her and recently wrote an amazing article for the NYTimes. In addition, I’m sure anyone with a social media account has been overwhelmed by the number of women participating in the #MeToo campaign to bring awareness to sexual assault based off of a movement Tarana Burke started years ago.  But this campaign is only comprised of the women who choose to speak out. Many, many more choose- for personal reasons that no one should judge- not to. Even within ourselves, we often silence these traumatic events. It’s hard and it hurts and it’s not only a sensitive subject to the individual, but an unnecessarily taboo subject in larger society.


LET’S ALSO TALK ABOUT WHAT WE NEVER TALK ABOUT- How it feels to be sexually assaulted. As I discussed above, we hear about rape and assault so often we block it out. And even if we weren’t desensitized by the timeless tradition of assaulting and harassing women, we don’t want to think about what sexual assault looks and feels like. I’m choosing to share my personal story with a level of detail I’m not even necessarily comfortable in sharing because I believe the more uncomfortable and outraged other people are, the more likely they are to turn that outrage into action.

After my last blog post I had a friend tell me that, a few years ago, she had been roofied and raped. I was shocked and heartbroken. This beautiful, fierce, and kind soul had been violated in the worst possible way. Since talking to her, I’ve been mulling non-stop over this topic of sexual assault. I think her story affected me so much because I, too, was sexually assaulted. I’ve mentioned it in the blog before, but have steered clear from discussing it in detail because, frankly, I was ashamed. In addition, until communicating with her, I don’t think I fully understood the weight of the fact that I had been sexually assaulted. At first- to survive emotionally- I pretended it didn’t happen. Then the other physical incidents became so constant and traumatic that it fell into the ball pit of abuse and got lost. I hid it deep in my memories behind the daily and very serious threats to my life- behind the punches to the head, the knives to my throat, and the choking until I passed out.

However, after hearing her story, it made its way to the surface…whether I wanted it to or not. Being upset for her and thinking about how violated she must have felt brought back so many things I had been blocking out.

So here it goes.

I WAS SEXUALLY ASSAULTED THREE TIMES IN MY RELATIONSHIP. The first time it happened was the first time he ever physically hurt me. We were laying in bed and once again, he was yelling at me about what a slut I was. I was on my side, facing away from him, apologizing pointlessly as he went on and on. I laid there stiff as a board and could literally feel the tension building in the room, but I didn’t want to risk getting out of bed and leaving, making him more upset. So I stayed laying there and held my breath. He let his jealous rage build, going on and on about past guys I’ve dated.

I don’t know what happened next. I don’t know if he wanted me and I meekly brushed him off or said no, or if it came out of nowhere. All I know is that, in the coldest voice, he said:

“Other guys got it so why can’t I?”

As he said it he grabbed me and spun me around and started ripping off my pants. I fought desperately to hold onto them, even before I had registered what was happening. As I was fighting to keep them up, I yelled over and over again for him to stop. I had begun crying without even realizing it. It didn’t take long. Within a few seconds my pants were off and he had forced his hand inside of me. Immediately, I felt complete and utter devastation. And there was a moment.

There was a moment where my entire body went limp, and this heavy silence settled inside my head, bringing nothing but weakness to my entire body.  A moment of simultaneous devastation and acceptance, even as it was still happening.

I was snapped back to reality when he grabbed me and shoved me down again, getting on top of me to choke me. I think I tried to get away and he choked me again…I’m not sure. All I know is that, even in that moment, I didn’t want to hit him to protect myself because I didn’t want to physically hurt him. I tried, but it was weak. The only other way I felt I could fight back in that moment was to spit in his face. Which I did. I don’t remember how it ended except in me sobbing and screaming at him. I packed up my car and almost left, but I had been severely emotionally abused for at least 6 months at this point. I felt it had been partially my fault due to his constant barrage of insults and manipulation and, besides that, he apologized and said it would never happen again.

But it did. Later in our relationship, he did the same thing. Another time, I pretended to pass out so he would leave me alone and stop yelling in my face. Instead, he touched me inappropriately and laughed at himself as he did it. Later, when I confronted him about it, he told me he was drunk and didn’t remember doing it.

Thinking back on these events, I thought of all the other less obvious ways I was sexually abused. How I was intimidated into being intimate with him, sometimes only moments after he had beaten me up. How I felt I could never say no to his advances. How I was intimidated into staying off of birth control. How I was told I was basically a prostitute anyways and so might as well make us some money by whoring myself out. How I was woken up out of a dead sleep and told he had raped me just to see me react, and how I will always have a scar on my knee to remind me of the terror I felt as I was falling out of bed to get away from him. I used to dread these moments, which occurred so, so often, but because they were heavily mixed in with the physical and emotional abuse, I never categorized them as incidences of sexual assault.


WHEN IT COMES DOWN TO IT, ABUSE IS ABOUT CONTROL. But sexual abuse takes control in a different way. This is an important point to me so I’m going to say it- there was nothing other guys “got” that my abuser didn’t. But he would find any excuse to control what he couldn’t- my past- and he used sexual assault as his tool. Why?

Because sexual assault is used a way to control and demean others, to control the most personal and intimate part of themselves.

It doesn’t matter if the perpetrator is famous or an average Joe. Sexual assault is made to make the perpetrator feel more powerful. And in our society where women make up the greatest percentage of sexual assault victims, women are tools to make men feel more powerful. I was recently told by a guy ON A DATE that when guys catcall, its to make girls feel good about themselves and for guys to impress their friends. The desire for power and control can’t get much clearer than that.

Ultimately, the big question I’ve come away from this reflective period with is this: What is it about the human race that has led men of all different socioeconomic statuses, familial backgrounds, races, etc. to think this tool is acceptable? To think women are at their disposal? And it came to me that since it first occurred way back in history, we have allowed it to continue. We have allowed it to become such a significant part of our culture that it manages to be covered up or ignored or even accepted. Since the beginning of time, women have been seen as objects. Why is “raping and pillaging” even a phrase? Why are women raped for gang initiations? Why are girls still being married before they reach their teenage years? It has even crossed over to affect male victims, because this idea of the manly man using sex as a form of power knows no bounds.

At the end of the day, what I want is for it to stop. All of it. And I want you to help me. By standing up and speaking out. By not ignoring claims of abuse or assault. By having conversations with your friends, or raising respectful children, or reaching out to a friend who has been assaulted. By doing one or all of these things or whatever you can.

If I haven’t yet convinced you to help by telling you my story, I ask you to do one thing for me. As you browse your Facebook tonight, I want you to look through your friends list. Count your first 6 female friends. Odds are 1 of them has been raped. (For male friends, its 1 in 9). Keep going. Count the next 6. And the next. I hope you recognize that this doesn’t even include the friends who have experienced other forms of sexual assault like me. I hope you don’t block it out, but imagine what that feeling of utter despair and dread feels like in the pit of your stomach, when you realize your worst nightmare is happening. And then I hope you get up and join me in making a difference.

Screen Shot 2017-07-30 at 10.34.25 PMPhoto by Nicholas Quam

 

 

 

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Why Does She Stay?

While reading My Story, I guarantee you asked yourself the question multiple times:

Why did she stay?

And I don’t blame you. In fact, prior to my abusive relationship, I used to think the same way. I would say to myself (and others): “I would never put up with that behavior from a man”, or “If a man so much as touched me….”, accompanied by a facial expression that insinuated his hypothetical doom. Because of this victim blaming that has been engrained into us all, I have been torturing myself the past few months asking myself why I didn’t leave at the first sign of abuse. But I recently heard a podcast (Sword & Scale, Ep. 60), that changed my perspective. In the episode, Cameka Crawford, the CCO for the National Domestic Violence Hotline and Love is Respect, was asked the following version of the question: “How common is it for the person who’s being abused to put themselves back into the situation that’s causing them harm?” Her response was:

“Well the first thing…I’d like to kind of flip that conversation a little bit, right?…The question isn’t… ‘Why does someone stay?’, it’s ‘Why is the abusive partner carrying out that behavior?'”

Crawford doesn’t ignore that many factors influence a victim’s decisions and actions; She states that every situation is different. In my personal research I have come across women who have stayed in abusive relationships out of fear for their lives or their children’s wellbeing, because their self-esteem had been destroyed so much they thought no one else would accept them, because their abuser controlled their finances, or…for love. The last one seems kind of pathetic right? I mean, how could a woman love someone who does that to them? But- and this is where Crawford’s words ring true- the abusive partner is the underlying element that links all of these factors together. He is the one who threatens harm, destroys self confidence and controlls finances. He is the one that tricked his partner into loving someone he wasn’t and into feeling like they were cared for and could let their guard down. He is the one that kept his partner believing that love still existed throughout their relationship by feigning moments of goodness and purity. Nothing reinforces this idea better than an idea I’ve come across often in the past few months:

Relationships are based on love. No one would get into a relationship thinking they were not loved and that it would hurt them.

The fact that a person would willingly get involved in or stay in an abusive relationship is absurd. It is the manipulation by the hands of their abuser that makes them stay. This manipulation starts so early on that many victims don’t realize it’s happening to them until the abuse is full-blown. As I mentioned in My Story, there is a term for this manipulation, called gas lighting. The best way I can describe it is like the devil’s snare in Harry Potter (because who doesn’t know HP). The partner is so skilled in manipulation that he sneaks up on you and before you know it he’s wrapped around your leg so tight you can’t get free even if you try. And it only gets worse until you’re completely ensnared and damn near suffocate, but still you fight like hell hoping to survive, hoping to escape.

Crawford mentions there are studies that show it takes an average of 7 times for a person to escape an abusive relationship. For me it was 10-15…if not more. I wasn’t weak for coming back. I was strong for still trying. Even those women who don’t actively try due to this manipulation aren’t weak. They aren’t less than for being controlled and deceived by the person they trusted most to have their best interest at heart.

It is so easy as an outsider to ask why she didn’t leave, why she stayed, why we all don’t run at the first insult dropped or the first bruise imprinted into our skin. It is so easy as a family member or friend to give up because you did your best to give her an out or ask her what’s wrong and she didn’t take it. It is even easier as a survivor to try to ask yourself those questions, to beat yourself up over not getting out when you “had a chance”.

Maybe if that wasn’t the first question we all asked, I would have realized it wasn’t my fault sooner and felt less ashamed to get help.

Because of this, like Cameka Crawford, I’m here to flip that blame on its head. It should not be a conversation about why the victim stays, but rather why the abuser is abusive. You can’t fix the problem if you don’t address the source, and the source is not the victim, no matter how much the abuser tries to convince us all it is.

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©NicholasQuam

What Does Freedom Mean to a Survivor?

Freedom is something you don’t fully understand until it’s taken away from you. Living in an abusive relationship was like carrying around my own jail cell everywhere I went. There were the obvious, commonly discussed restrictions to my freedom- not being able to spend as much time with family or friends as I’d like, not being able to attend events at school, etc.- but I was also restricted on deeper levels. The things I wasn’t allowed to do included not being able to call my siblings first, not being allowed to be on birth control (a common restriction among abusers), not being allowed to admire a trait in anyone (man or woman) that my abuser did not possess, not being able to listen to podcasts or do crosswords because I may get even smarter than him, and not listen to any music he didn’t like or approve of.

If I did any of these things, it would result in me being yelled at for hours and being kept awake because the terrible awful thing I had done was bothering him so much he couldn’t sleep…and if he couldn’t then I couldn’t. After I had been verbally abused, it would ultimately result in me being hit or choked or kicked. It got to be a pattern- I would do something I wasn’t allowed to do, would get yelled at for hours, and then would eventually be physically attacked.

It got to the point where I looked forward to being physically abused because that at least meant the constant berating was over and perhaps there would be a few hours of peace where he was apologizing and I was “free” from the abuse.

But the reality is that I wasn’t free. Even during that “grace period” I was still filtering my actions, words, and thoughts through his eyes. I was trapped all day, every day. I second guessed everything I did or said, whether he was around or not; all I could think about was what I could possibly be doing wrong and how my abuser would react to my every move.

For a year and a half, I lived in this world of constant fear and restrictions. After I was free of him, it took me months to unlearn everything he had forced into me during that time. To this day, small things will happen where I’ll get scared I did something wrong and have a physical reaction of fear. Over Thanksgiving my dad spilled some champagne and said, “Damn! I just wasted half that bottle,” and I froze. During my relationship, if I opened packaging on food wrong or spilled a beer, my abuser would let it ruin the entire night; he would complain about wasting money and yell about how I never thought things through before doing them. When my dad spilled, I didn’t come back to reality until 20 seconds later he teased me about zoning out. It felt like I had blacked out and took me half an hour afterwards to calm down and remind myself I was in a safe place.

Although I still fight with this PTSD daily, I have been extraordinarily grateful. In a month, I will reach my one year of freedom mark. I celebrate the small things like being able to go on a run when I want, wear what I want, or put on makeup if I feel like it. I celebrate being able to call my sister and ask her for advice, spend money how I want, and play guitar again. I also have been grateful for the big things. I have started to stand up for causes I believe in, such as women’s rights, and have spent the last month traveling across Thailand and India, which I never would have been allowed to do last year.

I am especially grateful for this trip to Thailand and India because it has taught me three of the most important things about freedom I have learned so far.

  1. Firstly, there is still a lot of work to do to get women equal rights in every single country. I’m sure people wonder why I’m so passionate about women’s rights and why I get so upset when I feel they are being denied; it’s because I know firsthand how women are taken advantage of due to the outdated and oppressive societal norms and roles they are forced by men to abide by… norms and roles that are euphemistically mislabeled and discarded as “cultural” or “traditional”.
  2. Secondly, it taught me a lot about what freedom means to me as an individual. The kind of freedom I most value is my inner freedom- the ability to think and feel what I want and to feel happy and proud of who I am.
  3. Thirdly, it taught me that my newfound freedom is something I will never surrender.

These last two lessons were not learned the easy way; someone on my trip spoke to me in a way that was very similar to what I experienced daily in my abusive relationship. I am always open to criticism and if a flaw is pointed out to me I will apologize and do my best to fix it. However, this person took criticism too far and not only publicly embarrassed me, but talked down to me in a truly demeaning manner. Being talked to like that, especially in front of other people, was unbelievingly triggering for me. I felt the same heat wave of panic come over my body that I used to feel when verbally attacked by my abuser and later spiraled into the familiar dark battle within myself where I tell myself what he said is true, I’m not a good person, and don’t deserve anything good. I spent the next few days struggling with my thoughts and beating myself up over whether I am the things/names I was called or not, despite knowing I’m not. Most of all, I struggled with how this person was not confronted about what they did and was angry that they never apologized. It was all too familiar. It felt like I was back in that mental cage, beating myself up constantly over the words and actions of another person. When I told my sister I was struggling with myself after I had finally become so proud of who I was, she replied “don’t let anyone take that from you”. Those words helped me realize that I can be more aware of my faults and I can take criticism and move forward, but I know what I am and what I’m not. I will not let another’s words or treatment of me take away my inner peace.

What I have learned from this experience is that you can never truly be free from people who treat you poorly; it’s an inevitable part of life. And the person won’t always get punishment or apologize for the ways they’ve hurt you. Oftentimes no one will ask how you’re doing after the fact. No onlooker will confront them or people will pretend it never happened. I have struggled with this refusal of onlookers to stand up since I was first embarrassed in public by my ex. I know I can’t blame someone who has never been through what I have been through or whose own story I am not aware of. I don’t know what they’ve been through or what they’re afraid of. If there is one change I can make, however, it’s that after reading this blog, I hope every one of my readers would try to place themselves in a victim’s shoes and help whenever and however they can (as long as their life isn’t in imminent danger). You have no idea how much it can mean to someone to be the person who stands up when they are being attacked in public, when they feel isolated and alone despite being surrounded by people.

About a month and a half ago, my sister called me telling me she had just seen a waitress being yelled at inappropriately by a male customer. She later approached this waitress and asked if she was alright, to which the girl replied (while crying) that the situation was extra difficult for her because her boyfriend had been so mean to her lately. I don’t know if I would have thought to go after her in that moment, even after everything I’ve been through, but my sister did. I’m sure partly because of what she’d experienced with my situation. And I’m sure she made more of an impact on that girl than she would ever admit to. I don’t think I’ve ever been so proud of another human in my life as I was of my sister in that moment. We could all learn a bit from her.

Through this whole process of dealing with the pain this person caused me and trying to understand others’ actions in situations like these, I’ve come to understand that everyone does the best they know how; that’s not saying people can’t improve in the future and take a stand the next time around, but the true blame lies with no one but the person who did something wrong. Furthermore, I’ve realized that even if the bully/abuser was confronted or punished, it wouldn’t mean they understood the consequences of their actions. Punishment or not, I would still have to deal with the pain their actions caused within myself and I would still have to find the mental fortitude to claim my freedom and be confident in who I am, something no act of retribution can do.

It’s a process and I am taking my lessons as they come, whether they be easy or difficult. Despite the anger and hurt caused by this incident, it helped remind me I can always improve myself and how I react to certain situations, and made me realize that I have more of a role in claiming my inner freedom and happiness than I previously thought.

As a result, I have resolved myself from this point forward to take joy in in all the moments I have, whether good or bad, because I have them. I am free. So many victims of domestic violence can’t say that.

So I will listen to that song on the radio, spend extra money on that favorite food I’m craving, and visit my family whenever I want. I will work on myself and my flaws to become a better person while refusing to be treated poorly. I will claim my freedom and I will revel in it.

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Photo by Nicholas Quam

 

When Will It End?

I told myself that while writing this blog I would be as honest as possible with myself and others. Part of that honesty includes talking about where I’m at in the healing process, even if it’s not pretty. I don’t want to discourage other people going through similar things, but rather show them that if they get through it once, they can keep overcoming it and can use their experiences for good even when it still hurts.


I remember when I was with my ex, I constantly thought, “When will it end?” By “it”, I meant the abuse. I wondered if it would be when I changed enough, when he decided to change, or when I left, when I was severely injured, or when I died.

When I finally ended things, the “it” in the question became the pain and heartbreak. When would I stop feeling guilty and angry? When would I stop loving him? When would I stop having nightmares? When would the PTSD go away? It happened very slowly, but eventually I started to think about all of these things less and less. The nightmares went away, the constant flashbacks or moments of panic became less frequent, and I started to hate him or not even think about him instead of pine for him or the good times in our relationship. Everyone was telling me they were surprised I was doing so well.

But this is where I wish I had been more prepared or done some research on my own because I thought I was healed. And I am definitely not.

About two weeks ago I went on a few dates with a guy I had met on a dating app. He was super cute and I actually connected with him, unlike other guys I had been out with since my ex. Our first date was on a Wednesday. That night I started having nightmares again. Some where my ex was chasing me, some where we got married and I felt conflicted because my entire family knew what he had done and I couldn’t decide if I actually wanted to marry him or not, and some that were just stress dreams- you know the kind- teeth covered in black tar when going into a room full of people, getting chased by a murderer, getting in fights with your siblings. In short, dating someone I was interested in had reignited my PTSD. I’ve since told the guy I don’t want to see him anymore (because he was sexist and overly competitive which reminded me of my ex- hey, they can’t all be winners), but I’ve spent the last two weeks in a funk that I’ve had a hard time escaping. Those dreams have affected my entire life in the past two weeks. I was over-tired from not sleeping well and had a mental breakdown at a friend’s cabin, but on top of that, my self-confidence plummeted. I am running a marathon in a month and started telling myself there was no way I would make it. I started getting stressed about every little thing and let that stress paralyze me.

I’m not going to lie and say that I don’t feel the stress and PTSD today as I’m writing this. I still do, and it will probably come and go in waves like this forever. My best aunt told me that even though it will probably affect me forever, it has made me a stronger person. And that’s true. Her words reminded me that I committed myself to turning this situation into something positive. The first step in my feeling better about this episode of PTSD occurred when I decided to do just that. I was deep in the moodiness when I went for a 5 mile run. I was so overly tired and beat up mentally I thought I’d have to walk- which would have made me feel even worse about myself. Right when I had convinced myself to give up I saw a cardinal fly directly in front of my face. Cardinals were my ex’s favorite bird and we once had an amazing moment in the winter where we found ourselves surrounded by 15 of them, bright red against the snow. I could have been paralyzed by the good memory or let my anger at him overcome me but instead I used that cardinal as a reason to keep pushing, not give up, and finish my run. It reminded me that I chose to do this marathon for myself, to prove that I could do whatever I set my mind to and that I could overcome any physical or mental barriers. Later in the week I told myself I’d run 12 miles to prove to myself I was being stupid and could do the marathon (I was injured all through June and most of July so fell way behind on training and let this PTSD episode convince me that I would not reach my goal). Well, I did it and it felt great. Being able to focus on some outside goal and achieve it little by little has been the best thing I could have ever done for my healing process. I haven’t reached the marathon yet, but finishing that 5 mile run after seeing the cardinal and then doing the 12 miler felt like I had yelled “HA!” in the face of both my ex and my negative, post-traumatic self.

Moral of the blog post is that if by “it” I mean the effects of the trauma I experienced, there will never be an end. I will always be affected by my experiences, sometimes negatively. And I am okay with that. Not because I accept it, but because I know it pushes me to keep going, to challenge myself to heal and challenge others to help me put an end to domestic violence. The healing process has forced me to do things for myself that I never would have done otherwise. It has given me a renewed sense of self and a new motivation for life. I’m not saying I won’t have paralyzingly hard times when the PTSD flares up or that it doesn’t make me obscenely angry that I can’t just be free of it all, but I know I can get through it and I know I can use that anger to propel me forward in life in ways I never could have imagined.

The next question I ask myself is this: “When will domestic violence end?”

I’m not yet sure of that answer but you better believe I will use weeks like this to make sure that at some point, this question no longer needs to be asked.

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What Are The Signs?

I’ve been wanting to post about so many things the past two weeks, but today on a run, I was listening to a podcast about trusting your instincts and saw some graffiti in a tunnel along the trail saying “Question Everything”. It felt like a sign telling me to share and discuss the signs of abuse and how to both recognize and approach abuse in your own relationship, a loved one’s, or even a stranger’s.

I’ll start with the signs of domestic abuse that one can find on the internet. This website is my favorite, as it is the most comprehensive: Recognizing the Signs

To sum it up, the best things to watch out for- in your own relationship or others’- are the following:

  • Dominance
  • Humiliation
  • Isolation
  • Threats
  • Intimidation
  • Denial
  • Blame

I want to underscore the fact that these behaviors are often so subtle, you will automatically be inclined to brush them off. I cannot emphasize this enough. Oftentimes when people think of signs of abuse, they think huge bruises and black eyes covered up by sunglasses. But the reality is that there can be months of abuse, even years, before those signs start to show. Sometimes they never do. And this is because abusers oftentimes don’t physically hurt their partners, or if they do, are experts at hiding it, hitting where no one can see or coming up with cunning excuses for a bruise on the arm or a cut on the lip.

There are two things regarding recognizing the signs of abuse that I personally think contributed to me not escaping my relationship as soon as I could have. The first is that I didn’t understand how subtle the red flags could be. It wasn’t until I was already fully engulfed in an emotionally abusive relationship, being called truly horrible names every day and being tortured over my past relationships, that I started to look up the signs of abuse online. And as a wise woman has since told me,

Once you’re looking up the signs of abuse, it’s too late. It’s already started.

When I first heard that, it gave me chills. Because, while I was still telling myself it most likely wasn’t abuse, he had been humiliating me, blaming me for all of our issues, isolating me from friends and family, and denying that anything was his fault, for months. Again, I want to note how incredibly subtle it was at first. On the website I linked to above, it says that isolating can be “restricting one from family and friends”. But with me, it didn’t progress to him “restricting” me until very very late in our relationship. Instead, it was him constantly telling me how a friend didn’t have my best interest in mind, or how another friend wasn’t supportive of our relationship and I shouldn’t want to spend time with someone who didn’t support me. It was all so subtle it seemed rational.

The second factor that kept me from leaving as soon as I noticed the signs of abuse was that the internet was so conflicting about advice on what to do and I didn’t fully understand how these subtle red flags could escalate. I had read other victims’ stories about how their relationships started similarly and progressed to murder or severe injury, but I had also read a lot of stories where their husbands seemed to start physically abusing them without any of the typical warning signs after years of marriage. And that didn’t seem to apply to me, so I ignored it. I thought, “he’s using his words instead of his fists…it won’t get to that point because he has a different outlet”. Once it did progress to physical abuse, I once again turned to the internet. I searched constantly for stories and articles about men changing and recovering. By that point I was so desperate for it to stop and so manipulated to believe it was my fault, I put all of my stock in the fact that he could and would change. Instead of looking for signs of abuse, I was looking for signs of him changing. I would say to myself, “It’s been 4 days now without him hitting me. That’s progress.”

The Takeaways

What I learned from all of this is that our instincts are the most important things we were born with. They protect us from harm, warn us of danger, and force us to Question Everything. I can’t tell you how many times people just ignored my ex yelling in my face in public, how many times people asked me if everything was ok but accepted my response of “I’m fine”. If you see something that doesn’t sit right, no matter how subtle it is, QUESTION IT.  If you see a loved one who is being embarrassed by their partner’s irrational outbursts, if you see a sibling’s hobbies start to change, if you see a friend’s fundamental opinions starting to change (even on a subject that seems trivial such as a pop star they used to love), if you see a stranger looking uncomfortable with their partner admonishingly talking down to them (even quietly), SAY SOMETHING. But do it safely.

How to help if you do suspect something

If it is a loved one you suspect of abuse, see the following resource, and remember to be unrelenting, but patient and open to the victim and their wishes. How to Help

If it is a stranger you suspect of being in an abusive relationship, understand that sometimes the abuser can get upset by being confronted or by the police getting called. It can put the victim in even more danger, as well as yourself. Wait until the victim is alone and speak to that victim in a safe way. An example of a true hero, who saved a girl from sexual abuse and trafficking in a covert way can be found here- (Yes, I know it’s a Buzzfeed article, but it explained how she made contact with the girl in the best way out of all the other articles): Flight Attendant Hero

And Remember:

Don’t ignore your intuition because you think something is unlikely or that abuse couldn’t happen to you or someone you love.

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